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Life as an e-fellow....

The first e-fellowship experience for me was embodied in a vision of the Sky Tower from half way up Mt. Eden. The 3 day meeting was full of inspiration, innovation and fresh ideas from a wide range of people places, buildings, practices and theory. Day one was kicked off by a meet and greet at the CORE Education HQ, everyone gave a personal introduction and a small talk with the artefacts we brought along - it felt humbling to be in a room with such a vast knowledge base and endless list of experiences. The e-fellow group consisted of 5 secondary educators and 2 from the Primary sector, this was a different ratio from previous years and sparked plenty of interesting conversations and allowed me to realise that despite many of us being at different stages of integration and familiarity of blended e-
learning approaches, many of us faced similar problems and barriers to what we see as good learning and future focussed education.  Follow this link for some more info about the e-fellows for 2014-wonderful humans.

Q: How many e-fellows does it take to organise a ride to lunch A: At least 7 when everyone is being very English and over-polite! (photo credit +Anne-Louise Robertson )

The afternoon led us to Stonefields primary school, which filled me with enormous inspiration as well as the reality of what a modern learning environment looked like in the flesh. I will write in more detail regarding a personal reflection of the school, but it gave me hope that learning environments like Stonefields will spread to other areas, but also disappointment in knowing that my eldest son, who would fit into an environment like that extremely well - would never have the opportunity to do so - another motivator to initiate change. The afternoon and evening was less structured with a scenic drive around mission bay thanks to +Louise Taylor   (where we drove around the place I first stayed when we first arrived in NZ), and a wonderful dinner at the ‘refreshment lounge’, set in the bush just west of Auckland, throughout the whole time the conversation was stimulating and inspiring. I wished I had a pair of Google glasses to record the whole event allowing me to rewind the learning and take it all in again!

Stonefields Playground (photo credit +Anne-Louise Robertson )

The second day started with some yoga and heart rate raising exercise to get the brain working again and then a session with Louise about critical pedagogical theory and the work of Freire in helping us apply a transformative lens to enquiry. It threw all my previous thoughts of an enquiry up into the air and really re-focused a large amount of my thinking in relation to education and the reason why we continue to do the things we have always done - it was certainly an exercise in disruptive thinking. We headed out to a spot near the school for an amazing lunch and then a much anticipated visit to the newly opened Hobsonville Point secondary school, this was something that I had been looking forward to for a long time as many of the examples we are presented with about modern learning environments and modern learning practices usually revolve around primary schools - I really wanted to see a future focussed secondary school up and running. HPSS fulfilled all of my expectations and it was brilliant to have a real life example of what was attainable in a new school, with new facilities and new staff, as well as a run down of how it all works from deputy principal +Claire Amos - the challenge now is how to modify and adapt this type of approach in a traditional school! Later in the afternoon +Mark Osborne from CORE Education spent some time with us and refocused my vision of where I think it is all heading and brought some realities into light about directions we could work towards. It was great to hear his experiences at Albany and I would have liked the chance to chat to him for longer but my mind was already full of so many ideas I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to take much more on. The evening was spent at the CORE office and was a great opportunity to meet some of the past e-fellows ( +Sonya Van Schaijik in person at last!) and existing CORE staff, I particularly enjoyed talking with +Rebbecca Sweeney about her work with schools and the Maniakalani related research.

The final day was spent bouncing ideas off of +John Fenaughty  and Louise, a really powerful moment for me was sitting outside on the deck listening to Louise reading a passage from Bell Hooks’ book Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. This moment really clarified the whole experience for me and gave me the belief that we could do something about education and there was no time better than now to act.

(photo credit +Anne-Louise Robertson )

On to my metaphor regarding my experience and the skytower and its lofty heights (I think it is still the tallest freestanding structure in the southern hemisphere?) Throughout the course of 3 days my mind was brimming with an unquantifiable amount of inspiration and motivation to make a difference, to manage and lead change, and to put into place systems that would eventuate in better outcomes for all involved, educational, societal and personal. After a session at the CORE HQ with Mark Osborne I needed a breather and went for a walk up mount Mount Eden - a dormant volcano and the highest natural point on the Auckland isthmus, I could only get halfway up, although others were walking up but I didn't have the time, I had to be back to base, I could still glimpse a view of the skytower through the trees, but I couldn’t see the whole thing and I knew the view was better further up - I wanted to see it so I could tell my son.   I took a photo of the skytower and looked at it for a while, and in a way that walk up Mt Eden was metaphor of what I am trying to achieve - I can see an outstanding educational system (the sky tower) is possible, but in this present moment it isn't achievable for me, as frustrating as this may be, I need time to make the complete journey and see the full vision realised in my region.  It was also a symbol of my son, who has specific learning needs and I have a huge motivation to change things for him.  Prior to the trip I told him I was going to Auckland and we talked about the skytower, we talked into google now and watched a video of people walking around the skytower and hanging off the edge, he thought it was amazing and was excited at even me having the prospect of being up there, he talked about it for the rest of the day, and no doubt dreamt about it that night.  When I whispered goodbye to him in the morning that I left for Auckland he woke up, and as he peered at me with one eye, slowly realising who it was - he suddenly sat bolt upright and with a big smile said ‘have fun walking around the skytower!!!!’

What the sky tower looks like if you actually get to the top of Mt. Eden…..

What the sky tower looks like in my ‘finding myself picture’ after a "counselling" session with Louise

What that picture looks like inside my head….

Although I didn't’ have the chance to walk up to the sky tower, or even get in it, I did have the chance to allow my thoughts to reach that height, and I’m building up a good idea of the things I need to do to initiate change in allowing others to see this.

Education as the practice of freedom….

A huge thanks to +John Fenaughty , +Louise Taylor , +Renee Cornelius  and everyone from CORE, as well as the schools for making us all feel so welcome in Auckland, and providing me with a life altering experience!  Already looking forward to Wellington and sharing the progress we have all made in our enquiry.


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